So here it is “Super Duper Tuesday.” My own local primary (MD) will not be until next week. And while endorsing a candidate is always a perilous thing for those of us that work in Washington, I have decided to give the Tales of the Sausage Factory Endorsement to Senator Barack Obama.
Why? See below . . . .
I grant I have spent much time pondering whether or not to endorse any particular candidate. Lets face it, the notion that my endorsement particularly matters to folks seems rather silly. And, like many Democrats, I have found myself torn and undecided between three reasonable candidates with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. So what finally swayed me?
Rationally, I like much of what I have heard about Obama’s style when he served in the Illinois state legislature (which counts as “experience” thank you very much), notably his work against the odds to pass a bill requiring videotaping of police interrogations. A small thing? Maybe. But I am impressed by a fledgling politician (as Obama was then) willing to work against the odds to achieve something profoundly meaningful for those who are not merely politically powerless, but publicly reviled. And, like many progressives who focus on internet/tech issues, I find Obama’s technology plan more impressive and placing more emphasis on preserving fundamental freedoms than Clinton’s. But these are not the things that ultimately decided me.
What decided me was reading Dreams From My Father and recognizing myself in it.
At first glance, that has to be the most bizarre sentence on the planet. On the surface, there could not be two more dissimilar people. Barring the most egotistical framework in the world, how do I get anything like myself [white Orthodox Jewish guy from Boston] in the life story of Barack Obama?
Because in Dreams From My Father Obama has manged to do the extremely rare and precious thing of translate his unique life experience and generalize it to the broader search for identity. I smile with wry recognition when he discusses his conflicted feelings when people assume he plays basketball and ask his opinions on “black” issues because while on the one hand he resents people making assumptions, he does play basketball and he does have opinions on “black” issues. So many times have I had the simultaneous reaction of annoyance that a cab driver or random stranger wants to berate me or praise me as a representative of the State of Israel when (a) I consider myself an American, but (b) I do have opinions and care about what goes on in Israel that go beyond those of the average American. I nod when I read about Obama’s experience as a community organizer, recognize his honest questioning of whether going to law school is really about trying to help others, help himself, or both. And, if both, is there anything wrong with that?
Finally, as a person of faith, I find Obama’s occasional expression of religious feeling refreshingly real and inspiring in a world where the mantle of religious faith has too often been claimed by those who would set themselves up as God’s personal bullies and enforcers rather than those who “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.” Obama radiates a quite, centered, and utterly unapologetic faith of one who focuses on his relationship with God for its own sake, rather than for what it gets him. When Obama tells a crowd in South Carolina “This is the day the lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24) I not only recognize the quote, but have an urge to respond “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the foundation. It is from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our sight!” (Psalms 118:22-23)
Finally, I have lived my life with the unshakable religious conviction that we can build a better world. A world that is really and deeply better, not merely tinkering at the margins or resigned to indifference and cynicism. In doing so I do not delude myself as to the challenges that confront us, where and how the odds are stacked against us, and the surety that any victory will over time give way to the next challenge. But, as Ethics of the Fathers teaches us: The labor is not yours to finish, but you are not free to turn aside.
I see in Barack Obama a fellow traveller on the same road. Which is why I close with the Youtube ad below.
Stay tuned . . . .